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Everything you need to know when it’s time to travel again

2021. That’s the timeframe Singapore is looking at for international travel to resume. While this seems like a long way off, you’ll want to be ready for this “new normal” as there are changes (big and small) to get used to. Aside from a more sanitised, less luxurious in-cabin experience, travel abroad will likely remain restricted in the short term. Travel trends point to domestic and short-haul trips, and while there will be bargains, it’s a good guess most won’t feel comfortable going off-the-grid anytime soon. To wrap your head around this new way of travelling, read on.

Travel insurance will be essential

This should not be an afterthought. While some credit cards extend some coverage of you’ve paid for tickets via your credit card, taking out a comprehensive travel insurance plan is recommended. Look out for “cancel for any reason” plans which can be costly but worth it if you have to ditch your trip. Do get one that offers medical evacuation services, and before purchasing, familiarise yourself with the plan’s fine print and validity in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a general rule of thumb, travel policies generally exclude claims arising from known (at time of trip booking, policy purchase and/or journey commencement) circumstances, such as travelling against travel advice issued by official bodies (e.g., Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, World Health Organisation) or mass media. 

See more: Does your travel insurance cover the novel coronavirus?

Entry into a country is not a given

An airline may sell you a ticket, but a boarding pass does not guarantee you entry into a country. Before booking anything, take a look at the airline’s refund/ cancellation policies and rebooking conditions as well the latest travel bans, restrictions and if mandatory quarantine is required. For many countries still closed to international visitors, plan your trip carefully. If you’re transiting through a country that is closed to outsiders, you will only be allowed to remain in the International Transit Area even if your connecting flight is 23 hours later. Some countries do allow entry for the continuation of a journey overland but these allowances need to be confirmed pre-trip by official channels. Also, do check if a recent Covid-19 test (usually no older than 3-4 days) is required as proof of health for entry purposes.

Hiring a travel advisor helps

Thanks to all-in-one Internet booking engines and online travel agencies, we’ve all become our own travel agent. Amid the pandemic though, the value of a dedicated travel expert is priceless. He/she will be the one to check through the fine print, secure flexible accommodation options and be the one staying on the line with airlines and hotels to verify your booking. Travel advisors are also often in the best position to secure a deal or some freebies to sweeten the deal. And if cancellations and refunds are required, they’ll handle it, making it one less administrative nightmare to deal with.

Carry documentation

With numerous travel restrictions in place, some mandating entry only to residents or citizens, it pays to be over-prepared and to have official documentation handy. Instead of carrying originals, have certified true copies done for all the essentials: identity cards, proof of residence, birth and marriage certificates to show familial relationships. Even if renting a car overseas is not on the cards, have an International Driver’s Permit (valid for a year) issued at AA to avoid facing complications if you need to hire a vehicle unexpectedly.

Flying direct won’t be easy

With airlines just beginning to resume flights, for the rest of 2020, expect the frequency of flights and destinations to be slashed. For August,  Singapore Airlines is only flying at 7% of its pre-Covid 19 levels, and that’s an increase from July. Qantas has stopped international flights (except to New Zealand) till March 2021, and others like Thai Airways won’t be flying international routes till September, at the earliest. Where once you would have had a non-stop flights to your destination, expect lengthy stopovers, or delays, or to continue to your final destination by road, train or boat. 

The new in-cabin experience

While there’s plenty of nervousness around the idea of flying many airlines have augmented the in-cabin experience to maintain strict hygiene standards. Expect all surfaces (tray tables, in-flight entertainment screens etc) to be cleaned with disinfectants pre-boarding. Some airlines are handing out mini hygiene kits and almost all are using hospital-grade High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to keep cabin air periodically and completely refreshed during the flight. And now the bad news. Expect meals to be served in a box (yes, even in First Class) and alcohol service to be suspended to reduce contact points. Some airlines are mandating masks to be worn throughout the flight (except when eating/drinking), while others are asking for cabin bags to be checked-in. Forget about browsing the Duty-Free catalogue or reading an inflight magazine, all paper-based media have been done away with and some airlines are even talking about cancelling in-flight Wi-Fi service.

See more: Is it safe to travel right now?

Have travel PPE ready

Pre-pandemic, anyone doing their version of a Naomi Campbell wipe-down would be given strange stares, now it’s a model to emulate. Don’t be surprised to see travellers in hazmat suits (you can buy one from Lazada) or covered from head-to-toe (hint: hoodies come in handy) oversized goggles included. Already there’s talk of including non-invasive personal screen/seat dividers like this, and hygiene kits will be the new amenity bag to show off on the ‘gram. And then, there are travel-specific hazmat suits designed by Toronto-based VYZR Technologies equipped with its own hospital-grade air-purifying technology and anti-fogging windows. It’s still not airline-approved but it’s only a matter of time. 

There are deals to sniff out

The future of travel is literally at crossroads now and can go either way: bargain basement prices to entice travellers back or catering to an exclusive set of travellers to keep the numbers down. Either way, if you’re intending on taking a trip soon, some hotels have already sold heavily discounted “pay now, stay later” vouchers (Banyan Tree, Conrad Bali, Small Luxury Hotels), so keep an eye out for more to come, and opt for those with long expiry dates. Eithad is selling travel vouchers with a 50% bonus (valid for two years, redeemable from 1 August 2020) that can be used for tickets, seat upgrades, luggage etc.. And if you’ve always wanted to go to Seychelles with 19 of your closest friends, the Six Senses Zil Pasyon is up for exclusive grabs at EUR 330,000 (S$515,817) for groups of up to 20 guests for a one-week stay inclusive of meals, island and resort facilities. For now, though, a daycation or staycation might just have to do. Check out Shangri-La Sentosa, Fullerton Hotel, Warehouse Hotel, Marina Bay Sands and Raffles Hotel, all are currently running promotions.  

Have a Plan B

No one plans a vacation anticipating being delayed, re-routed or denied entry into a country but regulations in 2021 are likely to remain fluid and you should have a contingency plan or two. Ahead of the trip, get familiar with your accommodation’s delayed/cancellation policy, look at nearby cities you could catch a bus or train from should the airline suddenly cancel or re-route the flight. If you do get turned around, see if there’s a way to salvage the trip – be it getting refunds, hotel/flight vouchers – or to take a trip somewhere else entirely. For peace of mind, pack essential medication and some food in your in-cabin baggage and extra clothing just in case you (and/or your luggage) are delayed en-route to your destination.

Give locals your business

While it’s tempting to haggle for a bargain consider how hard hit some tourism-related businesses have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a recent report by Time.com, Bali alone has seen 20,000 hotel bookings cancelled despite the island being relatively shielded from the pandemic. In Thailand, direct tourism contributes an estimated 12% to the overall Thai GDP. Pre-trip, research where to maximise your dollar locally, a good resource for Southeast Asia is Travelfish.org where everything written about has been visited by a local-based writer who has not accepted any freebies, so you know it’s the real deal.

Check what’s opened, what’s not

Depending on where you’re going, the safe assumption is that nothing is back to normal and what’s opened or closed can change overnight. While countries like Italy, Thailand, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are slowly opening up, cities like Melbourne and Hong Kong are facing a surge of new Covid-19 infections. Staying abreast of local Covid-19 information via official government travel guidelines and apps like HealthMap is key. If you’re planning to visit an EU country, this website breaks down all you need to know from quarantine regulations to what’s open and mask regulations.

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